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Rainforest Researchers Hit Paydirt (Farming 11K Years Ago in South America)
University Of Vermont ^ | 8-29-2002 | Lynda Majarian

Posted on 08/30/2002 10:11:59 AM PDT by blam

Contact: Lynda Majarian
lynda.majarian@uvm.edu
802-656-1107
University of Vermont

Rainforest researchers hit pay dirt

It shouldn't be there, but it is. Deep in the central Amazonian rainforest lies a rich, black soil known locally as terra preta do Indio (Indian dark earth) that farmers have worked for years with minimal fertilization. A Brazilian-American archeological team believed terra preta, which may cover 10 percent of Amazonia, was the product of intense habitation by Amerindian populations who flourished in the area for two millennia, but they recently unearthed evidence that societies lived and farmed in the area up to 11,000 years ago.

As reported in the August 9 issue of the journal Science, such long-lasting fertility is an anomaly in the tropics, where punishing conditions make the land highly acidic, low in organic matter and essential nutrients, and nearly incapable of sustaining life.

In 1994, James Petersen, associate professor and chair of anthropology at the University of Vermont, and Michael Heckenberger, now at the University of Florida, investigated their first terra preta deposit on a riverbank near Açutuba. The three-kilometer site was thick with broken pieces of ceramic, relics of a large, ancient society. To date, they and fellow researchers have excavated four sites and explored 30 others near the junction of the Amazon and Rio Negro.

What researchers find most remarkable is that instead of destroying the soil, the indigenous inhabitants improved it - something ecologists don't know how to do today. Although the project is in its early stages, modern scientists hope to learn the principles behind terra preta. The ability to reproduce the super-fertile soil could have broad impact, making it possible to sustain intensive agriculture in the Amazon and other hot regions.


TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: agriculture; amazon; amazonia; animalhusbandry; annaroosevelt; archaeology; brazil; dietandcuisine; dirt; domestication; ggg; godsgravesglyphs; helixmakemineadouble; history; huntergatherers; pay; preclovis; rainforest; researchers; sahara; slashandburn; terrapreta
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To: Carry_Okie
"Thy pungent scents off humus hath soiled this forum again."

Yeah, well... that was 2/3rds of a pun, PU!

21 posted on 08/30/2002 3:12:02 PM PDT by SierraWasp
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To: SierraWasp
More like ten thirds.
22 posted on 08/30/2002 3:17:12 PM PDT by Carry_Okie
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To: blam
It seems as though modern day farmers would be quite interested to know how they sustained the soil without fertilizers.It would also be interesting to know the cause of death(at age 24).Obviously life expectancy was much shorter at that point in time.
23 posted on 08/30/2002 3:44:37 PM PDT by seventhson
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To: seventhson
It seems as though modern day farmers would be quite interested to know how they sustained the soil without fertilizers.It would also be interesting to know the cause of death(at age 24).

Its not hard to understand if you consider hand tilled rows and plenty of rain. Not near the production per acre as we have today. Especially after 11,000 years of all sorts of decayed vegetation and animals have enriched it.

24 posted on 08/30/2002 4:08:11 PM PDT by DainBramage
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To: RadioAstronomer; longshadow; PatrickHenry
Of interest...
25 posted on 08/30/2002 4:11:49 PM PDT by Scully
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To: DainBramage
That would'nt exactly be organic,vegetarian soil then would it?
26 posted on 08/30/2002 4:26:48 PM PDT by seventhson
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To: El Gato
But modern farmers, soils scientists, and ag engineers do.

You beat me to it!

The first thing I thought of after reading that ecologists don't know how to improve soil was "crop rotation."

27 posted on 08/30/2002 6:03:09 PM PDT by longshadow
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To: Carry_Okie
My resistance springs from my general understanding of the situation;

Agriculture in the Old World is a relatively recent invention, sometime around 8000 B.C.
There is very little evidence of human habitation of the Americas before 12,000 B.C.
The Ice Sheets retreated enough to allow crossing of the Bering Straits only shortly before that.
Megafauna still existed around 11,000 B.C.

While all of these assertions are constantly being revised I believe they are still considered valid. If you think otherwise, point me to the evidence.

28 posted on 08/30/2002 9:03:39 PM PDT by liberallarry
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To: liberallarry
It increasingly depends upon whom you consult whether they are "considered valid." The archaeological community is fracturing over these recent findings, led by the lexicographers. (Sea levels fuctuate much more rapidly than was once thought. I am in the process of obtaining a 1995 paper from the Journal Geology to that effect.)

I tend to agree with the newer models that indicate that the Western Hemisphere has been a very interesting place for a very long time. Try poking around Ernest's Gods, Graves, & Glyphs list. Some of it is a stretch, a lot of it is serious. It is one of the better easily accessible collections and it's free. If you want more, ask blam.

29 posted on 08/30/2002 9:19:56 PM PDT by Carry_Okie
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To: longshadow
Rainforest soil is considerably different from, say, American tallgrass prairie soil. I understand that it is quite difficult to sustain crops on former rainforest lands.
30 posted on 08/30/2002 9:29:48 PM PDT by Cleburne
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To: blam
Interesting. Fascinating that academia thinks that North and South American Indians lived in the woods for all their history when in fact they were altering nature to a high degree up until the European plagues wiped 90% of them out after 1492. Only then did they live as we saw them when we began to immigrate over here.
31 posted on 09/03/2002 9:50:59 PM PDT by #3Fan
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To: Cleburne
Tropical soil burns up organic matter quickly. The re-introduction of organic composting came from the need to make the soil last longer in India. The Indore method was to combine soil with manure and leafy matter to make compost. Of course composted manure was used in Europe. They used to say in rural Germany, "Marry a girl with a big pile of manure." The manure was a sign of animal ownership and hence prosperity.
32 posted on 09/03/2002 9:57:40 PM PDT by Chemnitz
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To: liberallarry
"While all of these assertions are constantly being revised I believe they are still considered valid. If you think otherwise, point me to the evidence."

Look up some of these sites: Monte Verde, Topper, Cactus Hill and of course Calico. I will post a link that may help.

33 posted on 09/04/2002 7:08:40 AM PDT by blam
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To: blam
Thanks. I need a break from politics.
34 posted on 09/04/2002 7:11:45 AM PDT by liberallarry
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To: liberallarry
"If you think otherwise, point me to the evidence."

Calico: A 200,000-Year Old Site In The Americas?

Browse through this link to see a number of old sites.

35 posted on 09/04/2002 7:13:28 AM PDT by blam
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To: Cleburne
"Rainforest soil is considerably different from, say, American tallgrass prairie soil. I understand that it is quite difficult to sustain crops on former rainforest lands."

This is true. The nutrients are concentrated in the absolute top layer of soil, that is why so many trees there have large expanded bases. The trees do not have deep roots (no nutrients there) so the trees have large bases for stability and also to spread out as far as possible to gather the nutrients in the thin top layer.

None the less, when Coca Cola bought out Minute Maid, they also bought 12% of the land area of Belize to grow citrus. (The Florida crops are subject to unexpected freezes, that's no way to run a business.)

36 posted on 09/04/2002 7:29:04 AM PDT by blam
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To: #3Fan
"Fascinating that academia thinks that North and South American Indians lived in the woods for all their history when in fact they were altering nature to a high degree

Read This:

1491

37 posted on 09/04/2002 7:34:53 AM PDT by blam
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To: blam
I understand- and it was something of a surprise to learn so- that ground level diversity was quite low in rainforests. One would probably find more species of plants in a Southern decidous forest than a typical lowland rainforest- and the South's Coastal Plain savannahs and bogs have higher diversity than rain forests per square foot (and are mroe asthetically pleasing to my biased eye). I would imagine though that some types of rainforests have richer soil than others-and soils would vary in places. Of course, I have not had the privilege to travel in the lands where such forests grow- would like to sometime. Money and time...
38 posted on 09/04/2002 6:49:37 PM PDT by Cleburne
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To: Cleburne
"One would probably find more species of plants in a Southern decidous forest than a typical lowland rainforest- and the South's Coastal Plain savannahs and bogs have higher diversity than rain forests per square foot (and are mroe asthetically pleasing to my biased eye)."

I agree. Read the 1491 article in post #37.

In fact, I explained to my son that I have always been drawn back to the woodlands in this area, I attribute this to having been imprinted in my youth. I had just as soon wander through these woods around here than go to a good movie.

39 posted on 09/04/2002 8:07:51 PM PDT by blam
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To: blam
Read This

Yes, that's what I was going off of. If the Indians had ships, they would have been just as developed as us, it appears.

40 posted on 09/04/2002 10:29:05 PM PDT by #3Fan
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